NAKHON RATCHASIMA, Thailand (Reuters) - A Thai soldier angry over a land deal went on a shooting spree that killed at least 26 people, most of them in a shopping mall in the northeast that he fled to in a stolen Humvee after shooting his commanding officer, officials said.
Thai security forces shot and killed the rogue soldier on Sunday morning after an overnight standoff at the Terminal 21 shopping centre in the northeastern Thai city of Nakhon Ratchasima
The soldier was armed with an assault weapon and ammunition stolen from the army base’s arsenal, an official said.
He initially posted written messages on Facebook during the attack before his account was shut down by the company.
Hundreds of shoppers fled the mall in groups crouching low, and the police and army launched several rescues during the more than 12-hour standoff, with armed forces at one point emerging at a run carrying small children.
“It was frightening because I could hear the occasional gunshot...we waited a long time for the police to come and help us, many hours,” said Suvanarat Jirattanasakul, 27, her voice trembling after she emerged.
Another shopper who escaped told local Amarin TV that the shooter was “aiming for the heads” and said his colleague died on the scene.
“I heard so many gunshots. He was shooting everywhere and his shots were very precise,” said the man, identified as “Diaw”.
CCTV footage from inside the mall posted on social media showed the gunman dressed in black and wearing a mask, his gun slung over his shoulder with no sign of other people around.
Police named the shooter as 32-year-old soldier Jakrapanth Thomma. He reportedly worked at an army base close to Nakhon Ratchasima, which is about 250 km (155 miles) from the capital Bangkok.
Thai media said the suspect was a sharp shooter and gun enthusiast who often posed with weapons on social media
The killings began at around 3 p.m. (0800 GMT) on Saturday when the soldier opened fire in a house before moving to an army camp and then to the mall.
“It was a personal conflict ... over a house deal,” Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters on Sunday from Nakhon Ratchasima after travelling there to meet with wounded survivors.
Prayuth added that the conflict was with a relative of the soldier’s commanding officer.
The commanding officer was one of the people reported killed before the soldier moved on to the shopping mall and began shooting.
At some point during the day, the soldier raided the army camp’s armoury to arm himself, said Lt. General Thanya Kiatsarn, Commander of the Second Area Command.
“He attacked the guard to the weapon arsenal, who later died, and he stole an official jeep and an HK33 gun and an amount of ammunition to did what he did,” Thanya said.
The day before attack, Jakrapanth had posted on his Facebook account denouncing greedy people.
“Rich from cheating. Taking advantage of other people. Do they think they can spend the money in hell?” read one post in Thai.
He later posted written updates during the attack.
“Death is inevitable for everyone,” he wrote. Later, he complained about his fingers cramping and asked “Should I give up?” before the account was no longer available.
Hours after the mall siege began, Facebook (FB.O) said it had removed the suspect’s account.
“There is no place on Facebook for people who commit this kind of atrocity, nor do we allow people to praise or support this attack,” a Facebook representative said in a statement.
Major shootings are rare in the Southeast Asian country other than in the far south, where a decades-old insurgency persists.
Additional reporting by Athit Perawongmetha and Jiraporn Kuhakan in Nakhon Ratchasima, Patpicha Tanakasempipat, Panarat Thepgumpanat and Juarawee Kittisilpa in Bangkok; Writing by Kay Johnson and Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Daniel Wallis, David Gregorio and Jacqueline Wong